WASHINGTON (JTA) – Backed by Arab states, the Palestinians are pressing ahead with a United Nations Security Council resolution that slams Israel for settlement building.
The Palestinian delegation said Thursday that it had the votes to bring the resolution to the U.N. Security Council for a vote the next day.
The announcement, coming after a meeting of the 22-member "Arab group," which collectively has the clout to push a vote, signaled the Palestinian rejection of a compromise proposed this week by the United States calling settlement expansion a "serious obstacle to the peace process" in a Security Council President’s Statement.
The U.S.-drafted statement — a nonbinding declaration that does not have the clout of a resolution — also would have condemned rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, restoring a semblance of balance to the Palestinian-drafted resolution, which singled out only Israel.
While the resolution hews closely to longstanding U.S. policy on settlements, Israel and its U.S. supporters have said they would see withholding a veto as exposing Israel to a hostile body.
On Thursday, the White House said that settlement expansion is "corrosive" to peace and for Israel — again shying away from saying whether it would veto the proposed U.N. Security Council resolution.
"We, like every administration for decades, do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in response to a question about whether the U.S. would exercise its veto. "We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and a two-state solution, which we strongly support, but to Israel’s future itself."
Carney said the United States would not speculate on a resolution until it has been formally advanced, but added that "the best forum for making progress in the negotiations, in the peace process, is in direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians."
The Obama administration has been trying to persuade the Palestinians to back down from bringing the resolution to the council.
President Obama spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for 50 minutes on Thursday. The last time he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was Jan. 29, the White House said when a reporter asked.
The news of the proposed U.S. compromise, leaked to Foreign Policy and Alhurra, the U.S.-run Arabic broadcaster, did not placate top Jewish Democrats who have been urging a veto.
"Compromising our support for Israel at the United Nations is not an option," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the longtime senior Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives handling foreign operations appropriations. "The United States must veto the U.N. resolution on settlements to make clear we will not support such a blatant attempt to derail the peace process."
Another veteran Jewish Democrat, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) called the compromise "too clever by half" in a statement to Politico.
"Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N.," Weiner said.
Republicans also weighed in with opposition to the U.S.-proposed compromise. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is organizing a letter from House Republicans urging the Obama administration to quash any such initiative, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a likely presidential candidate in 2012, said the administration "has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations."
In fact, pro-Israel groups, while urging a veto of the current resolution, generally have given the White House high marks for quashing anti-Israel initiatives at the body.
"Mr. President, we acknowledge and appreciate that your Administration has, over the past two years, acted in many fora — within the U.N. and elsewhere — to support Israel’s security and combat her delegitimization," said a letter Thursday from the Orthodox Union leadership, the latest Jewish group to urge a veto. "In this, you have maintained the unbroken chain of bipartisan support for Israel which commenced in 1948. We ask, as well as hope and pray, that you will continue this support for Israel at the United Nations Security Council today."
Top Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate have written in recent weeks to the Obama administration pressing for a veto.
A number of liberal Jewish groups, including J Street and Americans for Peace Now, have said that should it come to a vote, a veto would damage U.S. credibility because the Palestinian resolution mimics U.S. policy on settlements.
A group that seeks and end to Israel’s presence in the West Bank garnered 10,000 signatures urging the United States to vote for the resolution.
"As the Obama Administration appears to be supporting human rights in Tunisia and Egypt and their citizens’ demands for freedom, the United States will lose credibility if it vetoes a U.N. resolution that supports those same rights for Palestinians," said the Internet petition compiled by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation.